Russian ecologist points to illegal dump as likely source of seagulls that forced Moscow plane to land in cornfield
On August 15, two Ural Airlines pilots landed their Airbus A321 liner in a cornfield when both of its engines failed shortly after takeoff. The airplane’s crew indicated that birds fell into both engines during a collision with a flock of seagulls. Following the emergency landing, multiple sources argued that the birds may have been attracted to the area surrounding the airport by an illegal garbage dump: Waste has been accumulating for years near Lake Glushitsa less than two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Zhukovsky airport, where the plane took off.
Two years before the crash, ecologist Yelena Grishina warned regional legislators that a collision with seagulls near the dump could cause a life-threatening plane crash. Grishina is the head of the ecology commission in the Moscow region’s Civic Chamber. In an interview with Meduza, she explained that she first heard about the illegal dump in 2016, when local residents repeatedly called to report the problem. Subsequently, she said, government regulators periodically took an interest in the area or conducted formal probes, but significant amounts of waste and significant seagull populations persist in the area.
The ecologist said that she had noted a number of significant dangers surrounding the dump. First, she explained, seagull populations there exceeded those near either ordinary dumps or clean bodies of water because “the landfill provided them with ideal conditions for reproduction: They nested in the water and found food in the heaps of garbage.” Grishina also warned local officials of the risks posed by attempts to reduce the size of the landfill through burning: “Right by the landfill, there were large cisterns full of airplane fuel,” she said. Finally, she pointed out that the garbage was located upstream from important water sources for Moscow-area residents.
Grishina said that after local officials failed to take action to clear the dump, she worked with environmental activists to send packages full of garbage from the area to the government of Zhukovsky in hopes of drawing their attention to the issue. Since then, she said, the volume of garbage in the dump has been decreased, but not by much, and not in the quarries that are closest to groundwater. “I can’t say things have gotten much better,” Grishina admitted, saying it was clear that “this wouldn’t pass without consequence.” She added, “Yesterday [after the emergency landing], I just cried, and I was so proud of our wonderful pilots. But you can’t let these kinds of situations happen in the first place. Now, I hope that something will be done about the landfill. It’s a good thing that everybody survived yesterday, but we can’t let this situation repeat itself.” Grishina estimated that clearing the landfill could cost tens of millions of rubles but emphasized that “human lives are more important.”